We have now been carving a lot of large finials, crockets and ornaments for the Utrecht Dom Tower. At the top of the tower, at about a hundred meters height, a ring of gargoyles are installed to spit out the rainwater that falls on the roof and the balustrade. At the end of last year we received three of these old limestone gargoyles: an eagle, a stone-cutting devil and a monster that sits on another devil's shoulders. We divided these three gargoyles among the three of us: colleague Serge got the eagle, Jelle got the stonemason and I would make the last one, all three from new blocks of Portlandstone. We just had to wait a little longer for the third gargoyle, because it hadn't arrived yet. If only I'd known what I'd gotten myself into!
It doesn't fit!
Jelle's stone-cutting devil on the contour saw
Serge immediately started cutting out the eagle on the contour saw, then Jelle got to work. But when "my own"’ gargoyle arrived, it turned out that this one was 2 metres 60 tall, and I can only handle 195 cm on my contour sawing machine. So it became clear that I had to measure and copy this gargoyle by hand from the block of stone. The other two were just long enough to fit into the machine.
If it all doesn't fit in the machine, it has to be done by hand. In this case I put the two pieces on top of each other, to simplify all measuring work. You can then very quickly see whether the shapes match, because they are put so close to each other. With compasses and contour templates it's easy to find the main shapes.
Once the three most important sides were defined, including the stonemasonry parts of the gutter on top of the gargoyle and the hole through the monster's mouth, I put the two blocks upright. And then it turned out that there was also another demon hiding at the bottom. But with each block on its own turntable I could easily compare and copy again, so that in the end a faithful copy emerged.
Video: inspection at the sculptor's studio
In November 2020 local broadcaster RTV Utrecht visited us for a video report of our work on the ornaments. The restoration committee came to judge our first results.
There is an article on the RTV-Utrecht website with a short report (see herethe link↑), but if you wait until everything is loaded, the video will also appear, on which we can bee seen from minute 4:50 in the studio. Because I took this job together with my colleagues Serge van Druten and Jelle Steendam, can they also be seen in this video. By the way, the whole video is worth watching.
Video: Jelle is working on a gargoyle
In the meantime, Jelle was working on his own gargoyle, a stone-cutting demon. I made a short video of it.
Gallery: work progress on the two gargoyles
Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl
All joys will eventually come to an end, and so did our work on the Eusebius Church in Arnhem, the Netherlands.. Luckily we had to go there one more time to make some adjustments. There were four connections of flying buttress statues to the church that still needed to be carved to fit at the very end. That means that it all didn't exactly match the old parts, and that we had to adjust the protruding bits. In addition, we had deliberately left parts unfinished in a number of places because we could only properly see on site how it would connect to other parts.. This was about the upper flying buttress statues of arch nr 23, with the Seven Virtues, from arch no. 20, on which a man (or woman?) wcould be seen with a watering can, from arch no. 19, with my Goat nibbling on a crocket, and finally of arch no. 17/18, on which my Two-Headed Eagle defiantly sat wide-legged. The first two were carved and therefore also adjusted by Jelle. The other two were adjusted by Tim and myself.
At the top of each of these four flying buttress statues sat a horizontal ledge. We carved all four of them on the spot, because this gives the contractor's masons more leeway when installing the sculptures. You'll need to adjust it to the inclination and the transverse direction of the arc, to the vertical wall plane of the church and to the right height above the arch. In such a case, every part that is already defined is adding a level of difficulty. That's why it's more convenient to, as I reported in the blog article about the Two-Headed Eagle a while ago, not to tailor a number of things yet and not to finish carve them until they're on the church. That was also the reason that we, especially on the eagle,, whicho stands on two flying buttresses at the same time, needed to do a lot of work on the spot, but we had already counted on that.
Eduard van Kuilenburg
The Arch with the Seven Virtues is right next to the Seven Sins. They were also carved in the same style by sculptor Eduard van Kuilenburg. Van Kuilenburg was a passionate sculptor, who put all his passion into this church. He died shortly after completing his work on this church. I recently got his biography, from which it can be concluded that shortly after the war he was severely judged on a choice he made in despair and out of self-preservation. I suspect he repressed his war trauma with sculpting. Sometimes he also climbed over the fence on Saturday to continue working, on his own. Anyway, a piercing story of struggle and suffering, that you can read here (in Dutch only, sorry) by clicking on his photo.
The Seven Virtues
The figurines of the group with the seven virtues are again predominantly ladies. We see a woman with a dog (temperantia-temperance, ), a woman with a rooster (justitia-vigilance), a man with a lion (fortitude), a woman with a child and a heart (caritas-love), a man and woman with an anchor (spes-hope), a woman with a cross (fides-faith) and a woman with a lantern and a book (prudentia-wisdom). Van Kuilenburg has played with textures, poses and hairstyles, and though we've sharpened up a bit here and there, we actually mostly copied the sculptures just as they were.
From the figurines of Spes, Hope, I forgot to take pictures beforehand, so I couldn't dedicate an article to it either. So now you can find it here below. You can also find the couple below, in the gallery.
-click on a small picture below to open the gallery-
Beeldhouwerijblog.nl is the blog of Koen van Velzen, sculptor in stone and bronze. Look up my website as well: beeldhouwerijvanvelzen.nl
It's been rather quiet on this blog over the past year because I had to keep still about a huge project. It was a gift to the Lambertus Church and the people of Veghel, sponsored by the Van Eerd family, owners of supermarket chain Jumbo. This project had actually since 2017 been in preparation, but only in february 2021 did we actually start carving the first ornaments. However, this was preceded by a long process of studying grainy old photos, enlarging, enhancing, drawing, modeling designs and researching sources.
It concerned two facade claddings for the side gables on the west side of St. Lambert's Church. The entrance side. This church was only the second one that the later famous architect Pierre Cuypers was asked to build, and it was also quite a bit simpler than many of his later buildings. But the building pastor at the time thought that was too meagre. From 1850 (ten years before the start of construction) Catholics were allowed to openly proclaim their faith again and that had to be celebrated in a big way. It had to be richer. More decoration on the outside. And that's how almost 30 statues were added to the tower and how the side facades were covered with natural stone moldings and arches. Until the year 1960, when in the context of a major 'restoration’ the claddings of both side facades were removed. The sculptural parts on the tower were to remain. But the ornaments on the sides had all become a bit jaded, people thought, and in addition, there was still visible damage that had originated during the Liberation of 1944 at the end of the Great War. Good riddance.
If we fast forward to the year 2017 we notice that there is renewed interest in the old front view of the church. There were still faded traces on the church that made it clear that at one time something must have been there before, and when some old photos appeared as well, the desire to restore this again arose. It is thanks to the volunteers of the Lambertuskerk that this has been taken up energetically, that a sponsor has finally been found and that it has now come about. On 3 October 2021 the whole project was unveiled by the bishop.
How to tackle such an undertaking?
Already in 2017 I was asked about my thoughts about this reconstruction, but in the end I was involved as a subcontractor of Slotboom Stonemasons in this project. At Slotboom, the existing facades have been accurately measured and compared with the photos, and every part has been worked out in a large three-dimensional computer drawing. The ornaments we were to carve later on fitted snugly inside this main drawing.
I started by blowing up the photos a lot, sharpening them, clarifying details and trying to understand what the project entailed.
Actually, what we see here is a set of arcatures: ten niches with pointed arches and a roof-like structure, which ends in several vertical lines around the neogothic arch window of the church itself. At the start of this window arch we see a horizontal line on the left and right, after which the vertical lines are narrowing again until they end in a niche with a statue of a saint, crowned with a few small finials. The most striking part were the depictions in the bottom ten niches. At first I thought these were ceramic panels, but apparently it was originally done in two-tone stucco. We were asked to also reconstruct these parts. I decided to take it on together with Jelle, and later Nico also joined the team.
Because there is still yellow Jaumont Limestone to be found at the capitals of the portal, it was quite an obvious choice to carry out most of the natural stonework on these parts in Jaumont as well. It's easy to carve and it also creates nice shadows. Cutting ornaments is not new to me, so I wasn't too worried about this part. After all, gradually many things become clear by themselves if you go at it one thing at a time. Making a proper quotation is sometimes more difficult than the implementation!
However, the design was much more stylized than I normally find in Gothic and Neo-Gothic churches, so that was a bit of a switch. At the top were two statues of St. Peter and Paul, and though the pictures were quite blurry, one will find a way through it if you just tackle it step by step: first a small model at scale 1:4, then at full size and then reproduce that into stone.
But the most difficult were the panels with ten scenes from the life of Jesus. I honestly don't know much about ceramics and thought I had to outsource this part, until someone suggested I carve it in basalt lava and then have it enameled. So we did, just as we were told. About that later meer↑.
The limestone ornaments
After working in Photoshop and a number of other programs (including the fantastic free program Faststone Image Viewer, in which you can also do some editing at lightning speed) to get the old images enlarged and sharpened, I was able to get a good impression of most of the ornaments and the two statues of the saints. With prints of these photos I could model the maquettes for the ornamental work and cast them in plaster. Jelle took care of the capitals, while Nico already started carving the first pieces inside the top of the niches: leaf motifs in basalt lava that would later be enamelled.
Meanwhile, all the photo editing added up unnoticed, until I had been staring at it for days, but it gave me a nice handle for the reconstructions. With one exception that we couldn't really get a grip on. At the bottom of the frames at the start of the large gothic arch window are a total of four very unclear ornaments. You can discover one in the photo above. This is the clearest of the four, but the meaning of it completely eluded us. Taking the plunge, I then proposed to replace these four corbels with the four evangelist signs according to tradition.
The Four Evangelists
Halfway through the facade you will now find four small corbels with an angel on them, a lion, a bull and an eagle, all four with a book. They are the age-old symbols of the evangelists, in response to a text in the Bible book of Revelation:
Revelation 4:6-8: In the midst of the throne and around the throne were four creatures . The creatures were full of eyes in front and behind. The first creature looked like a lion. The second creature looked like a young bull. The third creature had the face of a human. The fourth creature looked like a flying eagle. Every creature had six wings and every creature was full of eyes inside and out.
Although I don't think this is about evangelists at all, also because this bible book is full of astronomical and astrological references, in later centuries people invariably represented the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John according to these four symbols. In any case, as a sculptor you can make something fun out of it.
Playing with composition
These are the parts we like to make the most. How do you design something like this? Just the four heads or the whole beasts? With or without wings? Should we add a book or a scroll or neither? Do we just carve a very cubist, Art Deco-esque head or emblem? These were very small and shallow blocks in which we had to fit the ornament, with a continuing column on one side. So after a few quick little sketches and a bit of rough sculpting, we carved these corbels in a sort of mix between direct carving and working from a model.. Jelle made the angel and the lion, I did the bull and the eagle. I made a clay model of the bull after a tiny drawing, the eagle was done a bit more in the direct carving method.
We always have a lot of fun putting little details into it and making it a little bit odd, just like this sort of thing is always meant to be. Of course they are often not quite anatomically correct and the stone was actually a bit coarse for these kind of small details, but it's a lot of fun to cram it all in and find an interesting composition for it. Jelle made his angel and lion so that they looked down, and I thought that was a good idea, that I followed for my eagle. The bull is the only one looking over his bible book and holding it with his paws. On the left facade you see Matthew and Mark: a downward flying angel and lion, each with a book. On the right facade we have Luke and John: a seated bull with book and a descending eagle with book. The book indicates that these are the four evangelists.
Carving voluptuous ornaments
There is a horizontal band with ornaments on the two facades, for which I first made a plaster model to explore the shapes. Gradually I got some fun carving the curvy shapes of these bands, that somehow reminded me of a well-filled lady. Jaumont is also a type of stone that lends itself to this work, because it is easy to finish with a sharp wood rasp and it also draws nice shadows with that yellow.
All ornamental work in Jaumont limestone
the left facade with arches, here without enamelled panels (photo: Bas Mulder, Slotboom Stonemasons)
Thus we carved all the ornaments on the two facades. Above the pointed arch window you will find four large crockets on each facade, Nico made two more French lilies, there are two small capitals next to each statue and at the very top you will find two small pinnacles and a small finial. All other yellow natural stone parts were supplied by Slotboom Steenhouwers, who also took care of the installation.
-click on 1 of the pictures for the larger version-